VERO BEACH — In coming from East Carolina to USF, Skip Holtz brought along four full-time assistants who were part of his back-to-back Conference USA championships, as well as a senior fullback well-versed in the offense he'll run with the Bulls.
But the unsung import from Greenville, unknown to most Bulls fans, is Joe Sloan, a 23-year-old who was a walk-on quarterback for Holtz at East Carolina and a holder on special teams the past three seasons. He joined Holtz's staff as an offensive quality control graduate assistant, bringing the same eagerness he showed with the Pirates.
"He's really put together a great staff that I can get an opportunity to learn how to coach football from," said Sloan, who completed the only pass he attempted at ECU, earning praise from Holtz as being the most accurate passer in program history.
Sloan's story is inspiring, good enough that ECU nominated him last fall for the Rudy Award, given to the nation's top walk-on. After Sloan's first year at ECU, his father, Bill, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he died in summer 2008. Sloan went home to Chester, Va., to help run his family's construction and development business, thinking he had played his last game of college football. Realizing how much football meant to him, he used his degree in business administration and managerial finance to negotiate the sale of the family business then returned to the Pirates, and he spent his final season as much a coach as he was a player.
"The sacrifices he made, knowing his family situation, to be there, and watching him as a senior, he very much was like a coach on the field," Holtz said. "He ran the scout team, and he was more than a player. He spent every free moment in the office. He wants to coach, and he has a passion for it. He's extremely intelligent, and he already knows what we do as an offense, how we do things. I knew he would be a great addition."
Sloan has no trouble relating to USF's players, but the challenge is in commanding authority and respect from a group of people who are essentially his peers by age.
"I watched him do it as a player, and he was in a lot more difficult situation than the one he's sitting in now," said Holtz, who got his start in coaching as a 23-year-old graduate assistant under Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 1987.
Sloan earned his MBA degree in five years while playing football throughout, and Holtz said he had an A in every class but one, unsure if it was an A-minus or a B-plus. "I remember getting on him for slacking," Holtz said.
Sloan's combination of computer savvy and football sense makes him perfect for breaking down film, quickly analyzing a team's tendencies from different formations and down-and-distance scenarios.
"Technology's a great thing," Sloan said. "There are a lot of things you can do to prepare a team, but I'm just here to do whatever they need me to do to help out. Being around young people, having the opportunity to make an influence on the guys, that's what I want to do."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346.